Monday, February 18, 2019

Houdini gives the all clear to his imitators???

We all know Houdini was ferociously protective of his original inventions, going to great lengths to copyright and protect them. We also know he hated imitators and would not hesitate to go after them for infringing on his act. So how on earth do we explain this!?

Click to enlarge.

This is a half page ad Houdini took out in Variety on October 7, 1911. As you can see, he's giving the all clear to his competition to perform his latest invention without consequences. Note that he also uses this ad to announce he's giving up his latest passion: "P.S.–I have given up Aviation, because there are so many Aviators and Only One Houdini."

The invention he's talking about here is the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery, a dramatic improvement to his Milk Can escape. In fact, conventional thinking has always been that this was his way to deal with the many imitators who had copied his Milk Can. But here he is inviting them to copy it?

This wasn't the only inexplicable thing Houdini did this week. He was playing Keith & Proctor's 5th Ave. Theater in New York, and for reasons that aren't clear, he took himself out of the star position, which his contract guaranteed. Instead he played sixth on the bill, and he seemed to enjoy it! Variety reported:

"The experience is a delightful one," said Houdini. "I never imagined how 'soft' it was in the middle of the show. Monday afternoon I rushed out and commenced to talk fast, to keep them from walking out on me. But I didn't see anyone with their hats on and the audience looked so restful, I took my time."

So what is wrong with Houdini? Was he having some sort of breakdown? Or was he crazy like a fox?

At this time, Houdini has already developed and copyrighted (via playlet) his Water Torture Cell. But he would not debut it for another year. So maybe this was a way to get the competition to invest in Double Fold boxes and managers to book their houses full of Double Fold knocks offs. And then Houdini brings out the Torture Cell. Boom!

I should say I don't know of any imitators who actually did copy the Double Fold Mystery. It was an expensive and complex piece of apparatuses. In fact, the Double Fold chest can still effectively hold its secrets, as I discovered last year. So maybe Houdini is simply daring his competition to try and figure it out his latest invention and this is really just a sly bit of advertising.

Whatever was going on here, Houdini never ceases to amaze!



  1. It is highly unlikely that my mentor, Murray-The Australian Escapologist' ever saw Houdini perform this but he may well have seen the poster sometime in his career because he divised his Under Water Triple Escape. This was the Milk Churn in a box and then all was pushed into a cage which was locked. He would escape in record time and appear at the back of the audience. Sometimes Maskar would perform the escape in Murray's show and at least on one occasion, Murray's wife Marion performed it. He sold everything to British Illusionist Faust in 1968 and he started performing it in 1971 and I have seen Faust perform it. I will try to get some pics to you (but they are large files).

    1. I had no idea Murray did this. Thanks for that info!

  2. "October 7, 1911"
    "first time in 28 years"
    So Houdini had been first or last on the bill since 1883?

    1. Ah, dang it. I just copied that from the Variety article without thinking about the math. I'll cut it. Thanks.

    2. Just a note that the star attractions were almost never last on the bill. They were usually placed "next to closing," with the final act being something that would drive the patrons out of the theatre before the next show.

  3. Very interesting and surprising. Sounds like classic misdirection, so your theory may be correct. Who needs a double fold escape when there's a WTC waiting in the wings?